Cow Palace deal faces hurdles

The compromise Cow Palace bill approved 4-1 by the state Senate’s Agricultural Committee on Tuesday has a reasonable chance of working. Faced with intense pressure from producers and fans of longtime events at the money-losing, 67-year-old arena, Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, dropped his controversial original legislation.

Instead of declaring the entire state-owned 70 acres as surplus property and demolishing the buildings for redevelopment as a mixed-use project by Daly City; the new proposal would only sell 13 acres of the parking lot to Daly City. So the isolated Bayshore district could install much-needed basic retail.

But even though the basic approach seems feasible and gives everybody some of the main things they wanted, many obstacles remain. First, the bill must be approved by another legislative committee, the full state Senate and Assembly and the governor.

Meanwhile, Cow Palace officials and some legislators prefer either a long-term lease or open bidding as more potentially profitable to the state than a mandated sales negotiation only with Daly City. Opponents also seek stronger guarantees that all cash paid for the 13 acres would go toward renovation of the now-shabby Cow Palace.

Legislation was clearly needed to get this process moving. For years, the Cow Palace Board of Directors stonewalled Daly City’s pleas to lease the parking lot acreage for a neighborhood shopping center. No agreement could ever be reached on the property’s price. And the underserved, low-income neighborhood continued to be deprived of such necessities as a local supermarket, bank, post office and medical clinic.

The Cow Palace board also turned down a private developer who sought to buy the 70-acre site for a mixed-use project last June. The developer even offered to pay for a new arena that the state could continue operating — either rebuilding it at the same location or elsewhere.

Under Yee’s new bill, the Department of Food and Agriculture would replace the Cow Palace officials as the negotiating party for the sale of the lot. Money from the sale would go to the state Division of Fairs and Expositions. These proposed changes appear to remove the major barrier blocking a satisfactory deal.

In an ideal world, San Francisco and the northern Peninsula would have a convenient, first-rate arena for world-class touring events. But the Cow Palace is no such thing. The aging 16,500-seat arena has sunk to a distant third choice for major promoters — far behind the newer San Jose HP Pavilion and Oakland Arena. Cow Palace traffic access is also too slow.

If the Cow Palace is to remain where it is now located, some way should be found to upgrade it into a truly contemporary Bay Area arena. The most practical way to do this would be to bring in a public-private partnership and allow mixed-use development on some of the 70 acres.

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